This incredibly dangerous substance has directly contributed to increasing substance use fatality rates.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was mostly unknown in the United States for many years, even though it was first used as an injectable anesthetic to treat severe pain in the 1960s. But in 2016, it gained notoriety when the superstar musician Prince died of a fentanyl overdose. A year and a half later, rocker Tom Petty also overdosed on fentanyl, and rising rap star Lil Peep suffered the same fate in 2018.
These high-profile deaths underscored the fentanyl crisis sweeping the country. Today, fentanyl is at the forefront of the opioid epidemic and the major cause in the rise of opioid-related overdose deaths. Almost 60 percent of opioid-related deaths are attributable to fentanyl, according to a recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Fentanyl’s popularity stems from the fact that is very strong – more than 100 times more potent than morphine – making it an effective but dangerous pain reliever. As a synthetic opioid created in a lab, it is also relatively inexpensive to produce. Drug dealers often combine fentanyl with cocaine, heroin, and other drugs to create an intense high at a cheaper cost. However, this also increases the risk of overdose, because many people end up taking the drug unknowingly.
Fentanyl is also highly addictive – it’s possible to begin developing dependence in a matter of days, even when using medical dosages prescribed by a physician. Addiction may develop even more quickly with illegal fentanyl purchased from drug dealers because users rarely know the strength of the drug they’re taking.
Legal fentanyl is normally distributed as patches, shots or lozenges, while illegal versions are sold as a powder, on blotter paper, in eye droppers or nasal sprays, or as pills that have been shaped to look like other prescription opioids.
Fentanyl is known on the street by names such as Apache, China Girl, King Ivory, Tango & Cash, Dance Fever, Jackpot, and others.
Regardless of the source, fentanyl blocks the transmission of pain signals by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. The substance increases the body’s level of dopamine, which controls feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation.
While this may be a preferred experience in the beginning, with extended use the brain adapts to the drug and it becomes hard to experience pleasure of any kind when fentanyl is not being used.
Anyone who uses fentanyl extensively will likely exhibit impaired judgment, strong cravings, compulsive use, and other typical signs of drug-addicted behavior. Fentanyl addicts experience noticeable changes in behavior, including:
Changes in Behavior